Category: PiBoIdMo

Patience is a Four Letter Word

PiBoIdMo is chugging along and I am loving it. It’s very cool to see so many people engaged in the act of creating picture books. It wasn’t that long ago that I was convinced I only had one or two story ideas in me. Certainly not enough to consider actually jumping into the kidlit world.  And because I thought I had so few, I would hold them close, sheltering them from the world. And other writers. And definitely from editors.

Joining writer challenges like PiBoIdMo, and working intently on my own the other eleven months of the year, has shown me that the ideas will come. Heck, not only that they’ll come, but that I can hardly stop them. Ideas are everywhere, in fact, once you develop the habit it’s kind of hard not to notice them. Yet another reason to always carry a notepad to capture those idea in the wild. Bring them home and worry about taming the wee beasties later.

So, yes, it’s awesome that we’re cranking out ideas, but here’s the thing. Not every idea needs to be submitted. Some of our ideas, while fun at the time, just might not be good enough to see print. I’m not just deflating your balloon; mine’s losing pressure too. Let’s take a shot at re-inflating them a bit.

One of the more exciting sessions I went to at LASCBWI 11 was a panel by Jon Sciezka and Stephen Malk. They covered a lot of ground while talking about a career plan, but the real takeaway was the point that I echoed above. Not everything needs to be submitted. Say it with me, it’ll take the sting off.

Not. Everything. Needs. To. Be. Submitted.

Band-aid off? Ready to go? Great. If the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (emeritus) doesn’t submit every one of his ideas, maybe we should pay attention to that thought.

You see, at the end of PiBoIdMo you’re going to have a big pile of ideas to weed through. Some are going to sparkle like diamonds. Some are going to stink on ice. A handful will be worth a first draft, revision and development into well-honed manuscripts. You will (rightfully) feel awesome that you stuck with it, found the gems and pursued your craft, turning that brain-burp into a full blown story. This is what we do. We write, we revise. And then, if we’re truly brave, intelligent hardy souls, we think about submitting. And sometimes that answer’s going to be “no.”

Chin up, kid, the process has been worth the effort.

Why wouldn’t you submit your manuscript? I mean, you’ve just worked your proverbial butt off, you’ve got stamps, a well-worn copy of Writer’s Market
chock full of post-it notes and box of envelopes. Let’s go!

Hold on, little chum, let’s look at why we shouldn’t submit. This might hurt a bit, but that’s how we grow. Remember, chin up!

  1. There are too many books like yours out there in the marketplace.
  2. Your idea is preachy. We all want kids to benefit from our books, but being ham-fisted just isn’t the way to go. Take this tip from Seinfeld, “no hugging, no learning.” It worked for them, it’ll work for you. One of the top books of 2011 features a bear that eats the antagonist. Talk about no hugging, no learning!
  3. Your rhyming stinks. This is a tough one to swallow. Editors say they don’t want rhyming books, but we still see a ton of them published every year. And kids love them. “Let me rhyme”, you cry to the heavens! Well, unless you’re rhyming is flawless, unforced and serves the story, step away from the couplets, Joel.
  4. Your writing just isn’t there. Yet. This is probably the hardest one to deal with, and the most difficult to recognize. We have to be brutally honest with ourselves about our brilliant words. Are they really as good as the best picture books you’ve seen? Don’t give yourself an out by citing the books you don’t like that get published (because there are some bad ones out there). Aim high, find the writers that you like best and try to kick their butts. In a friendly, non-competitive way that involves a personal challenge of writing quality and not actual fisticuffs.
  5. If you’re submitting an idea you came up with this month you haven’t worked on it long enough. Write it up, tinker and revise. Then let it sit for a week or two. Even better, bring it to your critique group and let them have at it. Then revise again. Whittle that word count, polish those plot points, and let your manuscript mature like a fine wine.

I know the itch to send it out. I know what it’s like to bask in the glow of accomplishment from hitting “send.” But I also trust that taking a breather between the time you type the final period and the moment you get that teeny-tiny paper cut on your tongue from licking the envelope can mean the difference between “no response means no” and escaping the slush pile.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Johnny Cochran, “If it didn’t sit, you must not submit.”

UPDATE  – If you’re just starting out you might want to read this old post of mine (the same one I linked to in the comments, but I wanted to get it in the post too).


#NaPiBoWriWee Days 5, 6, 7 and a Wrap Up

I just flew in from #NaPiBoWriWee, and boy are my arms tired. It was a great exercise in writing every day (a constant goal of mine), and I have a better understanding of why it doesn’t happen. I also have a better idea of how to make it happen more often.

Life balance, juggling, time management, sleep deprivation. Whatever you call it, it’s about choices. Do I want to sit and write or do I want to:

  1. Work my day job
  2. Spend time with my family
  3. Clean the kitchen/the bathroom/myself
  4. Exercise
  5. Watch TV
  6. Read a book
  7. Buy groceries so we’re not eyeing each other like it’s the Donner Party Picnic

Choices and goals. This week gave me a clearer picture of how to make it work, and the value of working even when it’s hard. Thanks, Paula. I owe you a hug, or a high-five at least. Same for all the awesome folks who have chimed in and cheered each other on through the week.

OK, on with the show, I’m veering hard to the maudlin.

Day 5

This idea wasn’t on the original list I had made, but I couldn’t resist the title (which popped into my head while hiking around a local pond with my family). I often lock on to a phrase or title, and tease it until a story pops out. I like this one a lot, but again feel it might be a better chapter book or middle grade story than a picture book. Here’s the title, and opening line:

When Is a Polar Bear Not a Polar Bear?

Willa took the news hard, and she decided to do something about it. It took days to get the whole thing set up, and keep it a secret (well, mostly). Today was the day. She stepped off the bus, went to her locker and put on the Polar Bear costume she had hidden there. Now maybe they’d listen!

This is topical, dealing with climate change issues, but I don’t want to focus on the issue, rather the impact it has on Willa and what she does to raise awareness in her school. It’s a very rough draft at the moment, but this one gets a star next to it, for follow up.

By the way, the answer is, “When there’s no more polar there”.

Day 6

Confession time. Day 6 and 7 got away from me. I have the ideas, a rough outline and sketches for Day 6, but the rough draft eluded me. I’m blaming Day Job again. Where’s the life balance when you need it. What? You mean I need to pay the mortgage too? Bah! Hulk smash puny mortgage! But I digress…

Halloween is NOT for Monsters

Halloween is NOT for Monsters!
I just can't let him go.

Doodles work for me too. This little guy to the right appeared a couple of years ago, and I just can’t get him out of my head. I’ve worked up a series of sketches for him that tells the story of a little monster that wants to go trick or treating. His Mom won’t allow it because the monsters let the regular people own Halloween night. He figures out a way to sneak out and trick or treat without revealing himself as a monster.

I guess it’s an homage to the Charles Addams cartoons that I fell in love with as a young boy. I remember getting odd looks from the librarian checking out a collection when in second grade. Of course now I get odd looks from librarians for checking out children’s books. What’s with all the judgement, librarians?

Day 7

I knew this was going to be a tough one. I’ve had this title in mind since last summer, and just can’t find the story in it. Cute character, interesting situation. No conflict that satisfies. The Unicorn Whistle remains to be written. Someday…

Now it’s time to put these stories away for a bit. I hit the pause button on two projects in order to do #NaPiBoWriWee and I’m chomping at the bit to get back to them. Hope your week was equally refreshing. I’d love to know if any of your rough drafts from this week make it to submission and publication.

NaPiBoWriWee, Days 1 & 2.

Two days into NaPiBoWriWee and I’m clicking on all cylinders. Using my favorites from the ideas hatched during NaPiBoIdMo is an enormous help. For one, I have seven ideas that I like on tap. For two, these ideas have been kicking around my noodle for a long time so I can site down with some sense of direction and just write.

My approach has been very simple and that’s helped too. I make a quick outline; beginning, middle and end. I then write for the three acts. This isn’t necessarily artful prose, this is a rough first draft. Beauty, simplicity, character and themes can all be drawn out of it later. This week is about capturing that “shitty first draft” as Ann Lamont calls it.

Just for fun, and maybe a nice comment or two ( hey I can fish for feedback), here are the openings to the two stories written so far this week.

Day 1:

Spenser’s Pencil

“You have ONE hour to do you homework. No computer, no games, no phone calls. Do you understand me, mister?”

The door slammed and Spenser was left alone in his room, cut off from the outside world, just a boy and his homework. He looked at the worksheets on his desk and reached for his pencil. It rolled away.

Day 2:

The Adventures of Li’l Mister Monkey and Sailor Boy

It started as a joke, as so many things do.

“Let’s sail to the moon!” said Sailor Boy.

Li’l Mister Monkey thought it was a terrific idea, and soon they were plotting a course using sea charts and star maps.

Five days to go, five stories to write. It’s a fun ride, and I hope you’re finding success with your work too.

NaPiBoWriWee 2010

There’s been a flurry of sketchbook activity and notebook reviewing as I get ready for NaPiBoWriWee 2010, founded by the amazing Paula Yoo. That’s National Picture Book Writing Week 2010 for the acronym challenged.

To get ready I revisited my notes and ideas from Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month. Seriously did I have to spell that one out too?). To my great surprise, tucked away in that little Google Docs file were a number of solid ideas for a productive week of picture book writing. I’ve also added a few more since then in sketchbooks, text files, napkins and post-its. Enough so that I feel great about seven FIRST DRAFTS in seven days.

Did you see the ALL CAP emphasis? That’s because this is about getting those rough first drafts down for revision. Later. Paula says it quite nicely, allow me to borrow her words for a minute:

Having said that… I want everyone to have fun with this! I’m not expecting Shakespeare or “Goodnight Moon.” This is an attempt to encourage people to finally write that picture book they’ve been dreaming of… please think of this as a fun opportunity to brainstorm and finally write that first rough draft that you can go back to later and revise and improve upon. So often we  procrastinate or convince ourselves that our idea for a picture book is not “good enough.” So NaPiBoWriWee is a fun way to have everyone GO FOR BROKE and write 7 picture books in 7 days and see what happens!

Sounds like a great idea.

The hardest part of the next ten days will be following one of the other rules; no pre-writing. Brainstorming, outlining, and I assume sketching, are allowed, but save the text for that week. Well, my brain is storming away. I’ll be ready to hit the keys on May 1. How about you?